So many people are getting divorced and now we hear about Gwyneth Paltrow's conscious uncoupling. That is a fancy term for a more civilized relationship and breaking up with your ex.
This had me thinking about my own divorce from my children's father, and I remember worrying at the time that it was the worst thing possible I could ever do to them by splitting their family apart. Yet they are now grown and it all turned out okay. (Actually better than okay as they are thriving.)
When I divorced, I made a decision to make it as easy as possible on everyone -- with a huge emphasis on putting less strain on the kids. There was no such thing then as conscious uncoupling. Yet I did decide to skip the Wednesday and every other weekend visitation rules for my ex and instead they were allowed to go whenever. I remember thinking how ridiculous those rules were because what if my children had another invitation from a friend for the weekend? Why should they have to choose? My ex could come over my house whenever, too.
As most parents want a picture-perfect childhood for their children, I hesitated about the divorce, mightily struggling with the decision. Despite my marriage crumbling before my eyes, I kept putting my children first and thinking that there is no way I could do that to them. I even told a therapist that to which the wise therapist replied that the children would survive if it came to that.
By the way, for those who haven't been through a divorce with children, I have always referred to the event as the death of a family. There was mourning, grieving, and many other emotional after-effects -- it was the end of the family as we knew it so I think that is a pretty accurate description.
In all honesty, part of me still carries the guilt from the divorce. I realize all the time that my children have faced so many complex situations since then, and their lives are forever more complicated. Though they are on their own and extremely well-adjusted, I still worry or feel guilty about divided loyalties. I am not always mature and I definitely don't like to share, so it is sometimes a competition for time. There's always a holiday dilemma -- and this will get worse when they acquire spouses and there is even more competition for time at events and holidays.
The real truth is that my children are thriving, happy, successful adults, and remain emotionally whole. There is only occasionally the remnant of damage when I can see them carrying guilt in dividing time and holidays or when they feel one or the other parent is being slighted.
My current husband is a great model of this behavior as well after his own divorce with children. He keeps me focused on the big picture many times when I still struggle with competition for my adult children's limited time.
Way back when though, I had to let go of my possessiveness, I learned to share my children with my ex-husband. I had to learn to view him as a co-parent and even a friend when he was no longer my husband. This helped keep my children more than anything else I could have done.
In reflecting on what I did right, the ideas are worth sharing here, because although I am not Gwyneth Paltrow, I do know what worked for me and my children. If this helps even one person going through divorce, then it will be worth it.
First and most important: A very wise therapist I was seeing at the time told me something that was pivotal in my actions towards my children and my ex from that moment on. He told me that my bitter and negative feelings toward my husband were that of a wife to a husband and I needed to separate my feelings of him as a bad husband from the reality of him being a good father. With those words, I saw my ex through my kids' eyes and not my own. After that I could never punish my children by taking away their good relationship with their father, who loved and adored them, and who was always a good father.
I have seen many situations in divorce where the spouse actually punishes the children when they are trying to get back at their ex, by damaging their relationship with the other parent. That kind of retribution hurts the child the most and I have seen the devastating emotional damage resulting from it in the children even after they become adults.
Another pearl of wisdom: My children have exactly one and only one father. That one father is the only other human on earth who loves them with the same passion as me, their other parent. Why take away that precious relationship from my children when they are lucky to have it? Didn't my children deserve to have TWO loving parents?
Still one more defining moment that helped me through this period and helped keep my children as healthy as possible: the realization that children only have one childhood. There are no do-overs. If you mess up, you can't go back and fix it, so do the best to give them the very best childhood you can under whatever circumstances you find yourself in.
To review, the three guiding nuggets of wisdom guiding my actions post-divorce were:
1. Let your children have the most loving relationship with their dad (or mom) even if you hate him. He can be a bad guy to you, but he is a good father in your children's eyes.
2. There is only one other person in the world who loves your child (children) as much as you. (Their dad or mom.) Understand that and embrace it.
3. Your children only have one childhood. Don't mess it up any further than you have already done because there are no do-overs.
I can't state this advice any more plainly. Repeat those three as a mantra as often as you must if you are going through this situation. You'll be thankful you did later on.
From every celebration forward, such as graduations, birthdays etc, you will be sharing your children with your ex. If you concentrate on the aspect that you are all still a family, it is more tolerable.
For those who are skeptical, I understand that there are acrimonious divorces and friendly divorces, and I need to point out that the feelings I was experiencing were not the friendly kind. I truly believe this can be done even in the most ugly of situations, providing your ex is willing to do the same towards you. And of course there are situations where children must be protected from violent, criminal, or mentally ill parents. Barring those situations, the higher road can always be taken.
I am not trying to simplify these complex situations, but again, children need two parents. Give them that gift.
Read my regular blog at www.arlenelassin.com to see what's on my mind!